Hardy Plant Society

A Late Summer Border

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Living on the side of the Malvern Hills, like so many other gardens in this area, mine slopes a lot. This presents interesting challenges and makes me covert a flat garden. The far end of the garden has a particularly steep slope (around 25º) and having removed a vast Laurel I had to find a way of planting it up to maximise the slope and minimise the amount of maintenance for me in an awkward situation.

My solution was to go for a late summer border. The slope is quite an open aspect and gets buffeted by strong winds which blow along its length. Therefore I wanted something that didn’t need staking but then again I didn’t want lots of low plants which would not maximise the opportunities the slope offered. I hoped that by choosing late summer perennials, the type of plants often used in prairie planting, I would only have to cut back the plants once a year and their height and grace would be extenuated through planting them on a slope.


This was 3 years ago and I still haven’t quite got the palette of plants right but it has been an interesting learning curve. The backbone of the border is a row of Calamagrostis overdam planted along the top of the slope. They catch the sun and sway with the breeze adding movement. Living not far from Pictons Nursery I decided that Asters should be key plants. Aster umbellatus is one of the stars; it is a species variety and a mass of tiny white flowers for weeks and very popular with pollinators. A couple of shorter varieties included are Aster ‘Sara’ and Aster ‘St Michael’; both with purple flowers and good performers.

One plant I am regretting is Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. It has thrived on the clay soil and spread rapidly crowding out other less vigorous plants. Its height is welcome but not its girth so this will be addressed this spring. Another plant enjoying the location is Rudbeckia fulgida which is also spreading itself around. Hopefully next year after some judicious editing the Echinacea purpurea, Liatris spicata and Heloniopsis umbellata that are in there somewhere will start to thrive.

I had intended to incorporate lots of grasses when I started the border and so far Miscanthus sinensis ‘Kleine Silberspinne’ and Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ have been planted. I do find it challenging using grasses effectively within a border so they don’t look to spotty and incongruous.

Although I have a way to go before I have achieved the desired effect, planting late summer perennials on a difficult slope has definitely worked; they are indeed low maintenance and no staking is needed and in late summer back lit by the sun they look quite delightful.

Text and photographs by Helen Johnstone.
You can read Helen’s own blog at patientgardener.wordpress.com

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